Extraordinary leadership

What have London mayor Ken Livingstone and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates got in common? One is a nasal-voiced newt lover, the other the world's most famous geek. Both fulfil a basic need among people to be led by a real person not an apparatchik - this is true as much for business as for politics.

by Business Strategy Review
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

You will not succeed as a leader unless you have some sense of who you are, what you stand for and what you can and cannot do.

Workplaces often make it difficult for people to express themselves without fear of ridicule or failure, and many people succumb to this environment by hiding their authentic selves. They save their 'real' selves for friends, family and communities.

Work-life balance is about more than spending more time at home - it also means transforming workplaces into arenas for the display of authenticity. Even where self-expression is encouraged, individuals may already have too successfully suppressed their ability to know and show themselves. To do this requires a degree of self-knowledge as well as self-disclosure. The latter without the former will be inauthentic.

Introverted executives can remain frustratingly enigmatic. The authors observed a Silicon Valley executive who burned with passion for technology but whose colleagues did not know what she stood for. A Boston venture capitalist who attempted to be less aloof from his staff by going for drinks after work, exuded false bonhomie so that colleagues saw him as a fake.

Effective leaders rarely have perfect self-insight. They are often too fixed on their overarching purpose to worry about themselves. Others are narcissistic. Effective leaders develop a sense of how they are seen and what is different about them that makes them attractive to others.

Bill Gates turned his geek image to an advantage, by showing that he knows his stuff about the technology that underpins his company. Livingstone succeeds with potentially unpopular policies because Londoners believe that he really is one of them, even if they disagree with his political beliefs.

When colleagues were asked about the characteristics they appreciated in Roche’s chairman Franz Humer, the ability to communicate emotion came higher than entrepreneurial flair, marketing insight or his passion for innovation.

But what makes a leader different must be authentic to each individual leader.

Source: Extraordinary leadership
Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones
Business Strategy Review, Summer 2006, Vol 17 issue 2
Review by Joe Gill

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